Winding up 2015 in Toronto

Every year, I like to take a look back at the year that was and anxiously look forward to what’s ahead in the new year. I find myself once again in Toronto as I update this blog. This has been a city and opera company (The Canadian Opera Company) that has occupied so much of my time over the past several years. I am thrilled to be back in Canada to sing Der Wanderer in “Siegfried” over the next two months. I’ll then have a couple of weeks back in Kansas before heading to Washington, D.C. to rehearse and perform three complete Ring Cycles (as Wotan) this coming Spring. This is a project that has been LONG in the making and one that I am greatly anticipating. Both of these opera companies have meant so much to me--Washington has been my operatic home since 1987 (I’ve been in nearly 30 productions at The Kennedy Center over these decades) and Toronto has been a cherished venue where I’ve had great success, including winning the 2014 Dora Award for my work as Balstrode in “Peter Grimes”. So, I can think of few places I’d rather sing in the coming months.

But what about 2015? We still have a day left in the year--who knows what may pop up? But, looking back, I’m very happy with the performances that filled my schedule this year. It was a strange year, in some respects as I balanced, for the first time, a teaching schedule at Wichita State University with an active performing career. I also did some teaching at Yale University and became the Artist in Residence for the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at The Washington National Opera. It’s great to be able to give back to the company that supported me so much in the early days of my career. And, speaking of that, I’ll be the Artist in Residence for The Wolf Trap Opera Company this coming summer--another company that greatly supported me in my early days.

Teaching at WSU has been a joy. It is great to be back at my Graduate School Alma Mater. I greatly enjoy teaching my private studio as well as a few courses. This year, I taught a course in Opera Literature/History that helped solidify, once again, the greatness of this incredible art form in my mind. It was amazing to revisit so many masterpieces in the same halls where I first learned of them as a student nearly 35 years ago.

And, having the chance to continue performing these great works remains a challenge and exciting proposition. I am very grateful for being able to do what I do--and for being able to do it for so long. They say, “If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life”. Well, let’s just say that, for the most part, I love my work---there are few days that really feel like work.

And, I have so many of you to thank for being with me during this journey. Your emails, notes on Facebook and Twitter, phone calls, and other ways of showing support and friendship are so greatly appreciated. You’re on that stage with me, whether you know it or not. And my family--they have had to sacrifice so much as I travel hither and yon. This season is my 30th as a professional opera singer. I don’t even want to add up how many days I’ve been away from my wife and children. But, I appreciate their great support and love.

This year had me singing “Salome” in San Antonio, “Carmelites” and “Dutchman” in Washington, “Fidelio” in Madrid and with the San Francisco Symphony, “Tristan und Isolde” in Munich at The Bavarian State Opera, concerts of “Survivor from Warsaw” and “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony” with the San Antonio Symphony, and “Elektra” in Montreal. I also had some smaller engagements on campus as I sang “The Five Mystical Songs” with the Wichita State Concert Chorale. And, there were the Sundays where I had the honor of singing as the Cantor at our Sunday Masses at our parish. I cherish every opportunity that I have to sing.

As is my custom, I now will pick one performance as my favorite of the year---and this is tough to do. Sometimes, a performance stands out in my mind as a night I sang really well. Sometimes, it’s an evening where there is a special rapport with the audience. Sometimes, it’s one of those evenings where the Gesamtkunstwerk is flowing and you get caught up in the action. All of those evenings occurred. So, to pick just one....THAT’S DIFFICULT!!!

I so enjoyed what happened in our production of “Elektra” in Montreal under the baton of Yannick N
ézet-Séguin. I also enjoyed getting to sing “Dutchman” with my home company and for family that were in attendance. I enjoyed the response of the audience following the San Francisco “Fidelios” and was greatly moved by that haunting Schoenberg piece in San Antonio. BUT, if I have to pick ONE NIGHT that stands out in my mind---it would have to be the second performance of “Tristan und Isolde” in Munich (July 12). This was not one of my best nights of singing. In fact, of all the performances I’ve sung of Kurwenal over the years, these two performances were not even close to my best due to me still trying to get over a bad allergy attack that had occurred two weeks earlier in San Francisco (singing Pizarro just hours after getting out of the ENT’s office is not something I’d recommend to anyone). What made these performances, and especially the last night, special was getting to be a part of my wonderful colleague’s (Waltraud Meier), last performances as Isolde. She is one of the most noted singers of this role in the history of this great opera. This was the very house where the opera first premiered back on June 10, 1865. It is always chilling to sing the opera on that very stage. But, to sing the opera with one of the greatest of Isolde’s, in her farewell to the role performances, was beyond moving--for the cast, for the orchestra, and for the audience. The response was overwhelming after the final notes faded away into the Bavarian air on those July evenings. Waltraud and the rest of the cast deserved every second of the applause that went on for nearly 25 minutes following the final performance. I was honored to be a part of these evenings and will never forget the experience. As an opera singer, it was an artistic highlight. As an opera fan, it was a fulfilling experience in the theater. As an opera professor and historian, it was the joy of being part of something that will be remembered by all those in attendance for a very long time--and I can lecture about evenings just like this in the years ahead.

And, I look forward to all that is ahead in the coming year. Mr. Wagner is calling me to service and to work. I first started studying his works roughly 37 years ago. With The Ring (and all Wagner’s music drama), you build upon each previous experience. You grow in your understanding and vocal stamina. You fine tune your interpretation. You work with new colleagues and figure out how to meld your own experiences with theirs in order to best serve the genius of these incredible masterpieces. And, yes, sometimes, you just hope for the best. It’s hard stuff. Sometimes, you just curl your toes tightly in your shoes and let it rip. Sometimes, you feel that you are riding a crest of sound that just won’t let up. And sometimes, you walk off the stage, knowing that you’ve given it all that you could--exhausted, fulfilled, and ready to go at it yet again a night or two later. It’s a wonderful feeling--and I’m excited to feel it all again and again. Join me for the ride...let’s continue to do this together.

Christmas always brings feelings of warmth, hope, and joy. In a world that is so troubled, we reach out to Him who brings peace. We reach to Him for understanding and guidance. We yearn for His embrace--to comfort and encourage.

Feel that embrace. And don’t let go.

May you be greatly blessed by our Great Lord in a truly wonderful and beautiful 2016!!!